Captain Percival Henry Hall-Thompson RN was the first head of the New Zealand Naval Forces and was the Commander of HMS Philomel, the first New Zealand naval ship to go overseas in wartime.
Percival Henry Hall Thompson was born at Eling, Hampshire, England, on 5 May 1874, the son of Henry Hall Thompson and his wife, Agnes Spooner. After education at a private school he entered the Royal Navy’s training ship Britannia as a midshipman in 1887. He was a cadet for two years, then served on various overseas stations, including Australia. On 21 June 1899 he married Helen Sidney Deacon at London; they were to have four children. Sometime after his marriage Thompson became known as Hall-Thompson.
From 1905 Hall-Thompson was based mainly in London. On 30 June 1913 he was promoted to the rank of post captain. His association with New Zealand resulted from the Reform government’s decision, in 1913, to begin a locally oriented naval training programme. When approached, the British Admiralty nominated Hall-Thompson to serve as naval adviser and commander of HMSPhilomel, an ageing cruiser which would be the embryo of the New Zealand Naval Forces. The New Zealand cabinet approved his appointment on 7 April 1914 and he began his three-year engagement on 1 May: the first in a succession of British officers to lead the New Zealand Naval Forces over the next 46 years. A handsome man with a genial and breezy personality, Hall-Thompson arrived in New Zealand aboard the Maunganui on 24 June 1914. He was later joined by his wife and children.
Hall-Thompson left New Zealand with the Philomel on 15 August 1914 on escort duty with the force which occupied German Samoa at the end of that month.
As Naval Adviser in Wellington, Hall-Thompson was immediately immersed in the practical issues involved with implementing the new training programme. He hoisted his pendant as commander of HMS Philomel on 15 July 1914, and on 30 July took the vessel to Picton on a shakedown cruise. However, at Picton that same day he received news that war with Germany was imminent. He hastily returned to Wellington where the decrepit Philomel was prepared for war service. On 3 August, in accordance with the Naval Defence Act 1913, control of the Philomel was formally transferred to the British Admiralty.
Hall-Thompson left New Zealand with the Philomel on 15 August 1914 on escort duty with the force which occupied German Samoa at the end of that month. Following this successful mission, Philomel escorted the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, which left Wellington for the Middle East on 16 October 1914. For the next two years the cruiser was deployed mainly in the Persian Gulf: showing the flag, mediating between Arab tribes and harassing the Turks. Hall-Thompson effectively maintained his aged ship and kept up crew morale in trying conditions.